Technology Road Map: Wind Energy

The International Energy Agency (IEA) published its Technology Road Map: Wind Energy, which analyzes every variable capable of affecting the global development of wind energy. The aim is to decide what action is to be taken and which difficulties must be overcome to obtain the best results from technology, up to 2050.

Technology Roadmap: Wind energy By International Energy Agency (IEA )

Current trends in energy supply and use are patently unsustainable – economically, environmentally and socially. Without decisive action, energy-related emissions of CO2 will more than double by 2050 and increased oil demand will heighten concerns over the security of supplies.

We can and must change our current path, but this will take an energy revolution and low-carbon energy technologies will have a crucial role to play. To spark this movement, at the request of the G8, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is developing a series of roadmaps for some of the most important technologies. These roadmaps provide solid analytical footing that enables the international community to move forward on specific technologies.

Each roadmap develops a growth path for a particular technology from today to 2050, and identifies technology, financing, policy and public engagement milestones that need to be achieved to realise the technology’s full potential.

Roadmaps also include special focus on technology development and diffusion to emerging economies. International collaboration will be critical to achieve these goals.

Wind energy is perhaps the most advanced of the “new” renewable energy technologies, but there is still much work to be done. This roadmap identifies the key tasks that must be undertaken in order to achieve a vision of over 2 000 GW of wind energy capacity by 2050. Governments, industry, research institutions and the wider energy sector will need to work together to achieve this goal. Best technology and policy practice must be identified and exchanged with emerging economy partners, to enable the most cost-effective and beneficial development.

This publication was prepared by the International Energy Agency’s Renewable Energy Division. Paolo Frankl, Division Head, provided invaluable leadership and inspiration throughout the project. Hugo Chandler was the lead author for this roadmap. Many other IEA colleagues have provided important contributions, in particular Jeppe Bjerg, Tom Kerr, Uwe Remme, Brendan Beck, Cedric Philibert and Tobias Rinke.

This work was guided by the IEA Committee on Energy Research and Technology. Its members provided important review and comments that helped to improve the document. The IEA’s Implementing Agreement on Wind Energy Systems provided valuable comments and suggestions. Edgar DeMeo of Renewable Energy Consulting Services, Inc. provided valuable input.

Key Roadmap Findings

This roadmap targets 12% of global electricity from wind power by 2050. 2 016 GW of installed wind capacity will annually avoid the emission of up to 2.8 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. The roadmap also finds that no fundamental barrier exists to achieving these goals or even to exceeding them.

Achieving these targets requires investment of some USD 3.2 trillion (EUR 2.2 trillion) over the 2010 to 2050 time period. 47 GW will need to be installed on average every year for the next 40 years, up from 27 GW in 2008 – amounting to a 75% increase in annual investment from USD 51.8 bn (EUR 35.2 bn) in 2008 to USD 81 bn (EUR 55 bn).

Wind energy is a global renewable resource. While market leaders today are OECD member countries with China and India, by 2030 non-OECD economies will produce some 17% of global wind energy, rising to 57% in 2050.

Onshore wind technology is proven. Wind power can be competitive where the resource is strong and when the cost of carbon is reflected in markets. Wind generation costs per MWh range from USD 70 to USD 130 (EUR 50 to EUR 90).

Investment costs are expected to decrease further as a result of technology development, deployment and economies of scale – by 23% by 2050. Transitional support is needed to encourage deployment until full competition is achieved.

Offshore wind technology has further to go in terms of commercialisation. Investment costs at present can be twice those on land, although the quality of the resource may be 50% better. This roadmap projects cost reductions of 38% by 2050.

To reliably achieve high penetrations of wind power, the flexibility of power systems and the markets they support must be enhanced and eventually increased. Flexibility is a function of access to flexible generation, storage, and demand response, and is greatly enhanced by larger, faster power markets, smart grid technology, and the use of output forecasting in system scheduling.

To engage public support and allay socio environmental concerns, improved techniques are required for assessing, minimising and mitigating social and environmental impacts and risks, and more vigorous communication is needed of the value of wind energy and the role of transmission in meeting climate targets and in protecting water, air and soil quality.

Key actions in the next ten years

Set long-term targets, supported by predictable market-based mechanisms to drive investment, while pursuing cost reductions; set mechanisms for appropriate carbon pricing.

Advance planning of new plants to attract investment, taking account of other power system needs and competing land/sea-usage.

Appoint lead agencies to coordinate advance planning of transmission infrastructure to harvest resource-rich areas and interconnect power systems; set incentives to build transmission; assess power system flexibility.

Increase social acceptance by raising public awareness of the benefits of wind power (including strategic CO2 emissions reductions, security of supply and economic growth), and of the accompanying need for additional transmission.

Exchange best practice with developing countries; target development finance at wind power deployment bottlenecks; further develop carbon finance options in developing regions.


There is a pressing need to accelerate the development of advanced energy technologies in order to address the global challenges of clean energy, climate change and sustainable development. This challenge was acknowledged by the ministers from G8 countries, China, India and South Korea, in their meeting in June 2008 in Aomori, Japan, where they declared the wish to have IEA prepare roadmaps to advance innovative energy technology.

We will establish an international initiative with the support of the IEA to develop roadmaps for innovative technologies and cooperate upon existing and new partnerships […] Reaffirming our Heiligendamm commitment to urgently develop, deploy and foster clean energy technologies, we recognize and encourage a wide range of policy instruments such as transparent regulatory frameworks, economic and fiscal incentives, and public/private partnerships to foster private sector investments in new technologies…

To achieve this ambitious goal, the IEA has undertaken an effort to develop a series of global technology roadmaps covering 19 technologies, under international guidance and in close consultation with industry. These technologies are evenly divided among demand side and supply side technologies. This wind roadmap is one of the initial roadmaps being developed by the IEA.

The overall aim is to advance global development and uptake of key technologies to reach a 50% CO2 equivalent emission reduction by 2050 over 2005 levels. The roadmaps will enable governments and industry and financial partners to identify steps needed and implement measures to accelerate required technology development and uptake.

This process starts with a clear definition of what constitutes a “roadmap” in the energy context, and the specific elements it should comprise.

Accordingly the IEA has defined its global technology roadmap as: … a dynamic set of technical, policy, legal, financial, market and organisational requirements identified by the stakeholders involved in its development. The effort shall lead to improved and enhanced sharing and collaboration of all related technology-specific research, design, development and deployment (RDD&D) information among participants. The goal is to accelerate the overall RDD&D process in order to deliver an earlier uptake of the specific technology into the marketplace.

The IEA’s Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 (ETP) publication projects that energy sector emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will increase by 130% over 2005 levels, by 2050, in the absence of new policies (IEA, 2008).

Addressing this increase will require an energy technology revolution involving a portfolio of solutions: greater energy efficiency, renewable energy and the near-decarbonisation of fossil-fuel based power generation. The ETP BLUE Map scenario, which assessed the most cost effective strategies for reducing GHG emissions by half in 2050, concluded that wind power could contribute 12% of the necessary reductions from the power sector. This scenario is used as the basis of targets in this roadmap.

Rationale for wind energy

Additional to the CO2 benefit of wind power, power sector emissions of pollutants such as oxides of sulphur and nitrogen are reduced. Issues such as water quality and air pollution are high-priorityconcerns for many countries, and wind energy is attractive because of the local environmental benefits that it provides.

Wind energy, like other power technologies based on renewable resources, is widely available throughout the world and can contribute to reduced energy import dependence, entailing no fuel price risk or constraints.

Extensive use of fresh water for cooling of thermal power plant is becoming a serious concern in hot or dry regions. A principal advantage of wind energy for water-stressed areas is its very low consumption of water in comparison with thermal generation.

This is already an important issue in China, and a growing concern in India, as well as in OECD member countries such as the (western) United States of America.

The purpose of the roadmap

This roadmap aims to identify the primary tasks that must be addressed in order to reach its vision for wind energy deployment. The cost of wind generation is not the only major barrier to wind power deployment. Broader, systemic issues governing reliable transmission and system integration, social acceptance of infrastructure, and energy market structures are at least as important, and are discussed here.

The roadmap does not attempt to cover every aspect of wind technology and deployment. For example, small wind power and off-grid systems are not addressed. This reflects only a constraint on IEA resources and not the importance or otherwise of such omissions. Neither does the roadmap serve as a beginner’s guide to wind energy. For the sake of brevity, only explanatory text that is essential is included. The roadmap website provides links to further background information and reading.

The roadmap was compiled using inputs from a wide range of stakeholders from the wind industry, power sector, research and development (R&D) institutions, finance, and government institutions.

Two workshops were held to identify technological and deployment issues and a draft roadmap was subsequently circulated to participants and a wide range of additional reviewers. Previous roadmaps were identified and constituted important inputs to the process. These include the Unites States Department of Energy’s report “20% Wind Energy by 2030”, the Japanese Agency for Natural Resources and Energy’s “Energy Technology Strategy Map 2007”, and the European Wind Energy Technology Platform’s “Strategic Research Agenda” of 2008.

KEY POINT: Wind power accounts for 12% of global CO2 emissions reductions in the power sector by 2050.

Shares in power sector CO2 emissions reductions in the BLUE Map scenario by 2050
Wind 12%
Solar PV 7%
Solar CSP 7%
CCS 26%
Hydro 2%
Nuclear 15%
Gas (fuel switching and efficiency) 12%
Advanced coal 8%
Geothermal 3%
Biomass 8%
Source: IEA (2008a).

Roadmap content and structure

This roadmap is organised into seven major sections. First, the current state of the wind industry is discussed, followed by a section that describes the targets for wind energy deployment between 2010 and 2050 from the Energy Technology Perspectives 2008 BLUE Map scenario. The discussion on wind deployment targets includes information on the regional distribution of wind generation projects as well as investment needs to deploy these projects, operational costs of wind plants and the total cost of wind energy.

The next four sections describe approaches and specific tasks required to address the major challenges facing large scale wind deployment in four major areas, namely wind technology development; grid planning and integration; policy framework development and public engagement; and international collaboration.

The final section discusses next steps and categorises the actions and milestones from the previous sections by stakeholders (policy makers, industry and power system actors) to help guide them in their efforts to successfully implement the roadmap activities and achieve the global wind deployment targets.

The roadmap should be regarded as a work in progress. As IEA analysis moves forward and a new edition of Energy Technology Perspectives is published in 2010, new data will emerge, which may provide the basis for updated scenarios and assumptions.

More importantly, as the technology, market, power sector and regulatory environment continue to evolve, additional tasks will come to light. Finally, the objective of this roadmap is to identify actions to accelerate wind deployment globally.

In some markets, certain actions will already have been achieved, or will be underway; but many countries, particularly those in emerging regions, are only just beginning to develop wind energy. Accordingly, milestone dates should be considered as indicative of urgency, rather than as absolutes.